Anthony Rendon: A Steady Star with Sneaky Upside (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Anthony Rendon just kept falling.
In my first NFBC draft of the season, a 12-team, 50-round draft-and-hold with no in-season trades or waivers, I reluctantly passed on Washington’s third baseman in the fourth round (pick No. 39). While a fair price for his sturdy average and power, I craved more pop after snagging Nationals teammates Trea Turner and Juan Soto alongside Chris Sale. So I took Khris Davis, leaving Rendon in the player pool for one of my fortunate competitors to enjoy.
Nobody wanted him, apparently. I at first didn’t take his descent seriously. Surely everyone was letting him slip just enough to give me a glimmer of false hope, only to snag the rug out from underneath at the last moment. Or maybe they were just trying to be nice to someone whom they believed to be the world’s biggest Nats fan. (I’m actually a self-hating Mets fan who happened to stack the NL East rival by coincidence.) By some minor miracle, Rendon dropped beyond his 44 ADP–not yet accounting for my ongoing draft–and his previous max pick of 57 in 143 drafts this calendar year. And that’s the story of how I spent a fifth-round pick on a 28-year-old who has batted over .300 with a wRC+ of 141 and 140 in each of the last two seasons.
There will always be players in every draft who inexplicably last longer than expected. Perhaps it was merely Rendon’s turn. Yet it’s also fair to wonder if some fantasy players are simply nonplussed by his skillset in the early rounds. He has never popped more than 25 homers in a season, and his stolen bases (12, seven, two) have nosedived over the past three years. Missed time and/or a modest drop in batting average would make him a lackluster reach.
Except there aren’t compelling reasons to project either. Furthermore, Rendon may even tap into some hidden power upside, which would enable him to take a step toward fantasy superstardom.
Erase The Injury-Prone Label?
Once a player is described as “injury prone,” it takes a while to remove the tag. Evan Longoria wore the scarlet letter before playing all but six games from 2013 to 2016. Giancarlo Stanton needed a second season of full health before everyone accepted that he simply endured a few unfortunate mishaps in succession.
Rendon received the label before making his professional debut. In his freshman year of college, he suffered an ankle injury during Rice’s Super Regional. He hurt his ankle again the following year, leaving some to wonder if his body would ever last the grueling MLB grind.
Those fears resurfaced in 2015. While rehabbing from a knee injury suffered in spring, Rendon strained an oblique muscle. He thus followed a star-making 2014 (.287, 21 HRs, 17 SBs, 117 runs) by batting .264/.344/.363 in 80 disappointing games.
Since then, drafters and the Nationals can’t complain. He played 156 and 147 games in 2016 and 2017, respectively, before bruising his toe early last season. Before again sounding the sirens, he returned in three weeks. Cover up the 136 games played, and one may not realize he was ever gone by looking at his 24 homers, 92 RBI, 88 runs, and .308/.374/.535 slash line recorded over 597 plate appearances.
There’s enough of a track record for Steamer, ATC, and THE BAT to all project 140-149 games played. As shown by the last two seasons, that would do just fine. If he can make it past 150 for the third time in his career, Rendon could reach triple-digit RBI batting in front of some combination of Adam Eaton, Turner, and Soto in the heart of Washington’s lineup. Retaining Bryce Harper would certainly help, but this is far from a weak lineup if Victor Robles takes his spot.
Untapped Power Ceiling
Upon returning from the oblique injury on May 5, Rendon didn’t even attempt a steal until Aug. 21. Investors couldn’t lament the speed loss, however, as they were too busy reaping the rewards of a superstar slugger.
Once back from the sideline, Rendon batted .311/.376/.550 with 23 homers in 101 games. He sported a .336/.400/.546 slash line after the All-Star break while diminishing his strikeout rate in each of the last three months. To close the season, he compiled more walks (14) than strikeouts (12) in September, where he also popped six homers and a dozen doubles.
So yeah, maybe he’s more than just a steady hand.
Statcast fully backs up his success, ascribing Rendon a .306 xBA with slight upticks in xSLG (.545) and xwOBA (.388, .383 wOBA). With an average launch angle (17.7°) just a tick below Matt Olson and Max Muncy, he could ride these gains to new heights. Despite the missed time, xStats estimated 29.5 xHR based on his batted-ball profile.
According to the site’s glossary, High Drives and Value Hits account for 90 and 85% of home runs, respectively. Rendon continued his power progression by recording personal bests in each category.
If afforded health, he has the skills to mount a .300, 30-homer campaign. Only four first-round studs (Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, and J.D. Martinez) accomplished that distinguished feat in 2018.
It appears the experts are coming around. I considered myself an optimist when ranking him 40th, but Rendon resides five spots higher on the ECR. Heath Capps of Fake Teams and The Athletic’s Eno Sarris gave him the highest rankings at 26th and 27th, respectively. A deeper dive into his xStats has excited me enough to jump him above Soto, Davis, and a couple of aces at 34. Reaching this conclusion after getting all three of those hitters amounts to dumb luck on my part.
His 44 ADP, however, has not fully caught up to the industry’s love. He has a tight range between 39-47, so I was undoubtedly fortunate to snag him beyond the top 50. Most 12-team drafters picking near the end will probably have to invest that fourth-round pick instead. It’d hardly be a reach, and it might even prove a bargain.
If he can merely run enough to even match 2017’s seven steals, Rendon would suddenly look like a cheaper version of Freddie Freeman or Alex Bregman. You’re not paying for that, though. Instead, invest in a bankable average and expanding power when grabbing the stealth NL MVP candidate.